© 1997, Boston Radio Archives
Brian Dodge has been one of New England's best-known religious broadcasters for well over a decade now. He's put more than a half-dozen full-power stations and dozens of translators on the air, and in the process, his critics have accused him of breaking more than a few FCC rules.
Yet, whether through persistence, faith, or simple dumb luck, Dodge has survived every attempt thus far to put the brakes on his broadcasting empire.
In this NorthEast Radio Watch special report, we'll take a close look at the latest effort to get the FCC to examine Dodge's broadcast empire. Carter Broadcasting, licensee of stations in Boston, Providence, Portland, Chicopee/Springfield, and Rumford ME, filed the document with the commission on Wednesday, and now NERW brings you the first full look at what its 100-plus pages contain.
The complaint is nominally aimed at just four translators, W232AJ Greenville, N.H., W240AM West Keene, N.H., W288AM West Brattleboro, Vt., and W288AZ Bernardston, Mass. The translators are licensed to Harvest Broadcasting Association, a partnership supposedly including just four people -- William Wittik, Marian Akley, Susan Chamberlin, and Etta Dodge, Brian Dodge's mother. Carter's complaint alleges that HBA is in fact nothing more than a business front for Brian Dodge, bolstered by numerous letters and filings from HBA signed by Brian Dodge.
After eighteen pages of evidence to that effect, Carter turns its attention to another Dodge business venture, "LOVE Radio," which provides the programming for the four translators named in the complaint, along with 99.7 Wilmington, Vt. (a translator CP issued to Rothschild Broadcasting when it owned WVAY Wilmington) and 92.1 Westfield, Mass.
The Westfield translator, W221AP, is licensed to one Gary Kenny, but in fact was another LOVE Radio relayer until it was shut down last month. Dodge prepared the engineering portion of the translator application, and when Carter engineer Bob Shotwell visited the translator, the emergency number posted on the front of the transmitter was that of Dodge's LOVE Radio.
Shotwell found the translator somewhere other than where the FCC thinks it is. The FCC license specifies a 2-watt translator off Union Street just east of downtown Westfield. Shotwell found W221AP high atop Mount Tom, the highest site in the Springfield area, putting out some 40 watts ERP. The FCC's Boston field office shut down W221AP last month after being made aware of the situation.
The programming Dodge runs on the LOVE translators is another issue raised in the complaint. Last fall, as we reported here in NERW, the LOVE translators switched primary stations from WGLV (104.3 Hartford, Vt.) to WHAZ (1330 Troy NY) and its sister FMs WMYY (97.3 Schoharie, N.Y.) and WBAR-FM (94.7 Lake Luzerne, N.Y.). Since those stations are licensed as commercial operations, and the areas LOVE covers are outside their 1-mV/m contours, that's not legal. And as Carter contends, the switch was made so that LOVE could benefit from money raised by WHAZ, something explicitly forbidden by FCC rules.
The complaint provides transcripts of several of Dodge's fund-raising appeals over WHAZ/WBAR/WMYY and the LOVE translators, explicitly stating that LOVE will get money raised by WHAZ. (It's important to note here that Carter's complaint is not against WHAZ, which may well have been unaware of any wrongdoing.)
And that brings us to the next portion of the complaint, the incident that likely prompted the whole thing to be filed. As we've mentioned several times here on NERW, Carter is one of the applicants for 106.5 in Farmington, N.H. So, claims Carter, is Brian Dodge. And Brian Dodge. And also Brian Dodge. Three of the applications filed, under the names "Green Mountain Educational Fellowship," "Pioneer Valley Educational Fellowship," and "Northeastern Educational Radio Fellowship," specify the same tower site, the same type of legal entity as licensee, and the same programming.
A Carter engineer drove up to Farmington to check on the applications, and found all three had been sent by Dodge under the same cover to the town clerk for filing. And as for the tower site specified? Carter talked to Mike Bartlett of 2Way Communication Services -- and found that the only call he'd had regarding the tower was from Brian Dodge, who also prepared the engineering exhibits for the three applications.
A few other accusations against Dodge are mentioned briefly in the complaint as well, including a 1987 FCC case in which the FCC declined to address an allegation that Brian Dodge was using the name of another family member, Timothy Dodge, to file for an FM frequency in New Hampshire (now WNHI 93.3 Belmont). Also mentioned is the unauthorized transfer of control case involving Dodge's brief operation of WKBR (1250) Manchester, N.H. in the early 1990s, and another ongoing FCC investigation of Dodge. Not even mentioned here are Dodge's operation of WRUT (107.5 West Rutland, Vt.) two years ago after the construction permit had expired and while the FCC was taking new applications for the channel, or the currently-unlicensed status of Dodge flagship WWNH (1340 Madbury, N.H.). And mentioned only in passing is Dodge's status as a convicted felon, stemming from a car crash a decade ago in Vermont in which a person was killed.
Carter closes by asking the FCC to hold Dodge to the same standards of candor that other licensees follow, and calling for a hearing into all of Dodge's licenses. "If a licensee cannot be trusted," Carter writes, "it should not hold a license."
In a telephone interview with NERW Friday afternoon, Dodge said he had not yet received his copy of the complaint, and was not aware it had been filed. Dodge has promised to talk with NERW once he's reviewed the complaint, and we will bring you his reaction in a later issue.
NERW's editorial comments: There are no real winners in this case, no matter what the outcome proves to be. We have always taken a strong stand in this column against any violation of the Commission's rules, and the evidence is unquestionable that Brian Dodge has violated many of them, repeatedly.
Yet the motives behind this complaint are also less than pure. Carter makes no secret of the fact that W221AP competed directly with its WACE (730) Chicopee/Springfield, and that the Dodge applications competed with its own filing for Farmington NH. And as much as Carter claims it doesn't "shrink from competition (that's not) in blatant violation of the FCC rules," there's no question Carter would just as soon not have that competition, period. Of course, it's also true that the competitive nature of Dodge's operations gives Carter the standing to bring a complaint that the FCC will listen to.
The true shame of this case is that there's really no evidence that Dodge's motives are impure. Those who know him say his religious beliefs are deeply-held and sincere, and (even though the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office of Charities is investigating him for alleged wrongdoing) it's clear that Dodge is not getting rich off his stations. WWNH operates from a run-down prefab house in Madbury, and the translators are apparently run from the apartment Dodge shares with his mother in Brattleboro, Vt.
To read the many Dodge filings reproduced as appendices to the Carter complaint suggests that Brian Dodge started out sincerely committed to bringing Christian radio to the rural areas of Vermont, New Hampshire, and western Massachusetts that then lacked it -- and became bogged down in mountains of regulations that in the end, he may simply not have understood at all. (All of Dodge's filings are filled with misspellings and grammatical errors, and the handwritten ones are in an almost childlike scrawl.)
Will this filing bring an end to the Dodge broadcasting story? There's certainly enough detail here to force the FCC to sit up and pay attention. And while Dodge has somehow managed to find a way out of earlier FCC scrapes, this may be more than even he can handle.
Some have likened this case to the fight being waged over New Jersey's "Jukebox Radio," another instance where the control of a translator and its primary is being questioned. Yet not only are the stakes greater in that case (New York City, versus a host of tiny hill towns in New England), it seems much clearer there that the intent from the beginning was to deceive the FCC. Did Brian Dodge ever intend to deceive the FCC? Or was this simply what happened as he tried to pay the bills for more stations than he could really handle? There are no easy answers here.
In the next few issues of NERW, we'll be examining the case from a variety of angles, including Dodge's response and comments from other area broadcasters. And we'll track this case as it makes its way through the FCC, and perhaps into the radio history books alongside WJAZ, KFKB, WLBT, WHDH-TV, and all the other landmark cases.
Your comments are welcome as well; send them to email@example.com and we'll summarize them in a future NERW. The full text of the complaint is also available. We'll be back on Thursday with a full report on the rest of the news on the Northeast broadcasting scene.